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Advice / Job Search / Finding a Job

Ask a Credible Career Coach: How Do I Get Employers to Stop Labeling Me as “Overqualified?”

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Dear Coach,

I've been told time and time again that I have great experience and a solid resume. However, I keep hearing that I'm overqualified for positions. How can I change this vicious cycle?

Overqualified Yet Unemployed

Dear Overqualified Yet Unemployed,

You’re overqualified.

Ah, that ol’ catch-all chestnut.

When met with some form of this frustrating phrase, I’d first run a gut-check. Are you applying to the appropriate level of positions? Are you undervaluing yourself?

I’d also take a hard look at your resume. Is everything you included pertinent to that specific job? If you’ve stuffed your document to the margins with unnecessary or irrelevant skills and experiences, that could be contributing to your current predicament.

Tailor each resume to the position you’re applying for by: a) including only what is relevant and adds value and b) using the language in their posting or website to communicate your value in their language. The hardest skill to learn in writing an effective resume is using strategic restraint.

Let’s assume you’ve gone through this mini-exercise and you say to yourself, “Hmm, I know that I’m applying for the right jobs and my resume looks just fine.”

Great! In that case, let’s talk about strategies to counteract being labeled as “overqualified.”

Don’t Discount Their Assumption; Leverage It

If the interviewer hints at the fact you seem overqualified, take a breath. Remaining calm will help you more than starting an argument.

Instead, see if you can turn things around and gather some details on why exactly they’re putting you in the overqualified box. For example, you could try:

I’d love to address some of your concerns about my candidacy, and I’m getting the impression you think I’m overqualified. Which aspects of my profile are giving you cause for concern?

If the person opens up, you’ll have a more strategic jumping off point to address those issues rather than trying to mind-read. Of course, it’s always possible he or she won’t share any reasoning with you (many times, hiring managers are advised not to offer any feedback or criticisms).

Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to call it out when you get boxed as “overqualified.”

Focus on Value and Get Creative

Whether you’re armed with more information about what could potentially hold you back or not, you should still get creative with how you pitch yourself.

Instead of selling your past, focus on your present and what you bring to the table today. Below are some examples:

I appreciate your concern that I might get bored. But, the truth is this job would provide me with x, y, z—which is what I’m looking for.

I’d be thrilled with the opportunity to bring my extensive knowledge and unique experiences to this team. I have a lot to share, and have a track record of learning from others as well.

I want to be a part of something. Maybe I could go and sell my experience for more money. But I like what is happening here, and I want to be a part of it because I can add to it by x,y,z.

Let Go and Let Live

Sometimes some combination of these will work. Other times there won’t be anything you can do to change someone’s mind about being overqualified.

In the end, you don’t want to work somewhere that fails to recognize your value. Wish them the best in their search, focus on the variables you can control, and keep on moving toward the opportunity that’s waiting for you.

This article is part of our Ask an Expert series—a column dedicated to helping you tackle your biggest career concerns. Our experts are excited to answer all of your burning questions, and you can submit one by emailing us at editor(at)themuse(dot)com and using Ask a Credible Career Coach in the subject line.

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